Fear, as irrational as they might be, works on the basic principle that people hate to feel as if they are not in control, and so they reject, or go out of their way to avoid something that might disrupt their normalcy.
Most people with phobias will get on with their life provided they never have to face the object of fear. Let us be real though: there are some things in life you just can’t avoid your whole life and so, they are given treatment and in rare cases, medication. The reason I am explaining this is because understanding the term “phobia” and how it works, puts things in context for us. The fact that a person with aerophobia or any phobia for that manner is provided help, in the form of self-help techniques, or counselling and psychotherapy, as opposed to banning the operation of airplanes (or the object in question) tells us that it is the person with the phobia that needs to be treated. Shouldn’t we apply the same logic to homosexuality as well?
Unfortunately, that is not the understanding in many parts of the world. In India, driven by the Supreme Court’s decision with respect to recriminalization of homosexuality in 2013 and current government’s no stand on LGBTQ+ stance, violence and discrimination towards LGBT Indians has increased and remains a harsh reality in our schools, colleges, universities, workplaces, hospitals, and society at large. Sexual and gender minorities are actively excluded and marginalized from mainstream spaces, policies and civil rights. Of course, it is important to remember that the same court, in April 2014, passed a judgement recognising the rights of Third Gender community, showing us that a section, albeit a very small one, of mainstream society is slowly starting to understand the complexities of sexuality and gender identity. However, there is still a long way for us to go. It is absolutely necessary for us to stand in solidarity to overcome the obstacles and prejudices that pinches the LGBTQ+ community.
Every year May 17th is celebrated as the international day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia to mark how far many societies have come to empower people of all sexualities and genders. This year, the day falls on a Wednesday and people are coming together to observe the day under the title “Love Makes a Family”. One of the main aims behind celebrating this day is to bring attention to the ongoing violence and discrimination experienced by the non-gender conforming, trans* and same-sex desiring people everywhere. For those who are wondering if we really need this, here are a few instances of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia that have taken place across the country in the recent years. You can then decide for yourself!
The country doesn’t support its LGBTQ+ community
In 1860 Lord Thomas Macaulay formulated Section 377 that punished carnal knowledge “against the order of nature” with either imprisonment of ten years, or life and fine. Sexual suppression—a culture they decided to bring to India—was the norm in Victorian England of the 19th century. It is ironic; however, that the British who brought in this unrealistic idea of taboo into our country have gone ahead and decriminalised homosexuality in 1967, while India is still struggling with the idea of sex outside the means to procreation (which many, including the judiciary uses to characterise homosexuality), and seeing it as a perversion and crime.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), police in different states and Union Territories arrested 1,491 people under Section 377, of which 14% were minors, in 2015. The police have been registering cases concerning child sexual abuse under Section 377 instead of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act POSCO, leaving children vulnerable in the process.
In March 2015, India was among the 43 countries that voted in support of a Russian-drafted resolution that proposed removing benefits for same-sex partners of UN staff. While the resolution failed to pass in the General Assembly committee after 80 nations opposed it, it goes to show how anti-LGBTQ+ are the leaders of our country! Sanctioned by the law, people continue to use this law to humiliate and harass people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community.
In Karnataka last year, the man’s family had separated a couple once they found out that the man’s partner was a transwoman. Even though the couple wished to be together, they were threatened under Section 377. This is only one among the thousand cases!
Service providers are often unfriendly or discriminatory to LGBTQ+ people
Last year, several restaurants and bars in Delhi and Mumbai decided to put a damper on the Christmas cheer by deciding to close their doors on gay couples. Shiro and Bar Stock Exchange in Mumbai were some of the establishments that decided that only straight couples would be allowed to enter their property. This wasn’t out of the norm, since many eateries do not allow same sex couples access to the areas that have been designated for “family dining”. It is important to remember that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code condemns sexual intercourse against the order of nature — irrespective of the genders of the people involved in the act — which makes nearly anyone who indulges in sexual activity not intended for procreation culpable in the eyes of law. Thus, those who justify homophobia by citing the law against homosexuality are, ironically, ignorant. Even if the law was against the LGBTQ+ community, nowhere does the law suggest that two men or women could not be seen together in public or that they couldn’t have a romantic dinner.
Homophobia still rampant in institutions of education
Since most colleges now have LGBTQ+ support groups on campus, and thanks to stringent anti-bullying rules in place, students have a respite from harassment on campus. Yet earlier this year, Ashley Tellis, a gay rights activist, was fired from his job as an assistant professor at St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore, for discussing sexual orientations. The situation is still much better in colleges for the students. Schools In India, however, continue to be a thriving ground for bullies. A pan-India study conducted by IMRB and ParentCircle in 2015 revealed that every third child is bullied in school. Several studies prove that lesbian, gay and bisexual adolescents are more likely to be bullied and victimised throughout their school years. Since schools have different policies w.r.t bullying, many culprits often get away with their behaviour. Often times such complaints are ignored and in the rare cases that one is expelled, they easily find admission in another school, nullifying the point of the expulsion. Schools play a huge role in shaping up the minds of young children. However, most schools have rules in place that are extremely restrictive, and binary, which makes it difficult for children who may not fall in these brackets. Heteronormative attitude from their peers, and their teachers affects their self-esteem. This is why, the Indian Health Ministry has launched a program called Saathiya to address queries on sexual health and mental health among other issues, and hopefully we will see marked changes in the future.
Extortion and blackmail becomes a part of life for most LGBTQ+ people
The community, since 2014, has been dealing with varied forms of intimidation, starting from blackmail following consensual sex, threats of “outing” people to family, friends, co-workers or police to attempts at defamation. An article published by Caravan, which had been written after taking inputs from a Mumbai-based NGO that promotes health and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, extensively talks about various instances of extortion, blackmail and harassment. As per the data provided by the NGO, in 2014 alone, there were 386 such instances that were brought to their notice. Till June 2015, 161 complaints were recorded. One of the recorded complaints that the article cited was from a third party observer on an extortion racket being run by the police of Kharghar (Navi Mumbai). The report suggested that the policemen apprehended sexual minorities and young heterosexual couples,“[A man in connivance with the police] would take them to the [railway police] room at platform 1 of the railway station where he would threaten to inform family members of wrong behaviour of targeted people and also require them to empty their pockets in the room.” Since Section 377 is a serious charge and a crime that could, if resulting in a conviction, lead to life imprisonment, most people are wary of approaching the police for help, and end up being victims to extortion.
The healthcare sector fails the members of LGBTQ+
Records suggest that around 86% HIV/AIDS affected persons in India belong to the MSM (Men having sex with men) group. Due to Section 377 people are moving back into the closet. In order to reach out to an estimated 4.5 million MSMs across the country, it is very important to decriminalise Section 377. The United Nations has, on several occasions, urged India to decriminalise homosexuality by saying it would help the fight against HIV/ AIDS by allowing intervention programs, much like the successful ones in China and Brazil. Jeffrey O’Malley, Director of the United Nations Development Programme on HIV/AIDS, said that countries protecting homosexuals from discrimination have shown better records of protecting them from getting infected by the diseases. Many of them have managed to double the rate of coverage of HIV prevention cases, as much as 60%. In India, the rates of new infections among men who have sex with men continue to go up. It is important to remember that unless we take appropriate steps it would be difficult to contain the spread of the virus. We need to change the laws, sensitise police and the judiciary.
It doesn’t matter on what side of the debate you fall in when it comes to homosexuality. The fact remains that they are equal citizens of the country, and have a right to a safe and fulfilling life. Homosexuality should not be an offence. A person should be free to choose what they wish in their private intimate aspects of their lives, and who they love!